The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
There’s a “Nice” guy (Caden) and a “Bad” boy (Dylan), both in competition for the love of a super smart science nerd (Juliet). Sounds like a typical, trope-heavy YA contemporary, right? Well, yes and no.
The trick is that Caden and Dylan (or “Dyl,” as he prefers to be called) are actually enslaved to this secret spy organization that uses Love Interests to extract secrets from important people. The “Nice” and the “Bad” are put against one another in competition for the subject’s love, and the loser is then incinerated.
One problem: the two boys fall for each other instead of their proposed subject. Oh, and the “Nice” actually isn’t so nice after all, or so he keeps telling me.
Sounds cool, right? A YA contemporary that is aware of the typical tropes, then twists them completely? Awesome.
I had decently high expectations for this. It was included in the Book of the Month choices for May, and so far everything I’ve gotten from them has been pretty good. Plus, I like tongue-in-cheek, and this screamed that.
What I got was a really cool idea but that’s about it.
In trying to be “cool” and “different” and “hip,” Dietrich forgot how to write (if he ever knew how to in the first place). Or better yet, it felt like Dietrich came up with an idea for a YA novel but had never actually read a YA novel in the first place.
The characters were all flat, I didn’t feel any sort of chemistry between anyone, and oh boy, plot holes galore.
For instance, the Love Interests have these implants in their ears, wired to their brains, that allow them to telepathically communicate with their coach. But that would mean the coach could be listening in ALL THE TIME to their thoughts, but yet, Caden is constantly thinking things he shouldn’t, then realizing it and stopping, and yet… nothing ever happens to him. Empty threats all over the place. And then later, when they take them out, it’s in their foreheads? And is a tracker?
And don’t forget about the time Caden got really mad at his coach for forcing Juliet to trip and hurt herself (yea, I don’t understand either)… and then promptly forgot about it.
And then there’s the dialogue. I was literally groaning while I read it; it was very stilted and didn’t sound like real people, let alone teenagers. Not to mention, in order to avoid conflict, the characters all got along really well, really easily, and when they got mad it was only for like a sentence. Or, characters revealed things about themselves that made absolutely no sense for the sole purpose of a plot twist.
The main character, Caden, claims that the “Nice” label he’s been given isn’t really who he is, yet aside from some angry feelings toward his “stepdad,” we never actually see how he’s so different from the character he’s playing.
It might have been better if we’d gotten perspectives from both Caden and Dylan (I refuse to call him “Dyl,” which is the dumbest name I’ve ever had to read 500 times), because reading only Caden’s point of view, I never saw how Dylan was even in the contest with Juliet, and seeing him struggle with his feelings might have been nice. Especially since Caden was so boring. It would’ve been a good Simon/Baz playoff, but instead it was just meh.
And finally, the ending. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the story, and none of it was believable for these characters. Why is the security so lax and the building so small for a major spy organization? Shouldn’t the main baddie have a bunch of underlings and minions? It was just… too easy, and the “shockers” were only in there for “shock,” but even that didn’t work.
Basically, I was just really disappointed in this whole thing. It needed major editing and rewriting, and as much as I was rooting for the boylove, I never got the happy squeals I got when I was reading Carry On. Or any other YA contemporary romance.
What a bummer.